By the time 1980 hit, Robert De Niro was a true star in Hollywood, in every sense of the word. He had multiple Academy Award nominations under his belt. He had teamed up with Martin Scorsese and started a legendary partnership. Some of his greatest success was yet to come.
5. Once Upon A Time In America De Niro was at a point in his career where working on projects he wanted to and working with anyone he wanted was no doubt his choice. De Niro was the first person cast in Sergio Leone’s final film. He had enough clout to have input on many aspects of the film, including his fellow cast members. It would receive mixed reviews, but as time went on it has become a more respected and even definitive film.
4. The King Of Comedy A rather dark comedy directed by, once again, Martin Scorsese, makes for another great De Niro performance. His portrayal of Rupert Pupkin is torturous and almost painful. A comedian who so desperately wants in on show business he stalks his idol, late night talk show host, played by iconic funny man Jerry Lewis. De Niro’s methods were in full swing and his ability to draw out great performances from fellow cast mates really came through.
3. The Untouchables Having made a name for himself playing mafia gangsters and gangster types lead Brian De Palma to cast him as the most notorious gangster of all time, Al Capone. Being as method of an actor as possible, he became Capone right down to the underwear. He would again receive an Oscar nomination for a spot on portrayal.
2. Midnight Run A more straight up comedy, Midnight Run was a popular a more of a box office success than the 3 previous film. De Niro proved he could play straight up comedy alongside other great comedic actors, including his co-star, Charles Grodin. It is unmistakable that De Niro put his whole talents in the film, adding to the character and really making it his own. It is still a popular film and often showed movie all over TV and there is no doubt in my mind that De Niro has quite a bit to do with that.
1.Raging Bull The Scorsese/ De Niro teaming would prove its most prolific to date when Scorsese would come out of his comfort zone with a sports film, all at the urging of De Niro. De Niro is even often credited with saving Scorsese’s life by visiting him in the hospital after a cocaine overdose. By urging him to make the film and get back to work is what brought him straight. It would prove valuable on all fronts as De Niro would win a best actor Academy Award and the film would go down in history as one of Scorsese’s best and one of the best of all time.
There is no doubt that Robert De Niro is one of the most talented, fearless and ferocious actors of the last forty plus years. It is with this in mind that has lead me to my most recent top 5 list, or should I say lists. I have decided to break down Robert De Niro’s career, decade by decade with a top 5 list for every decade he has been relevant in the business.
This top 5 list will begin with the decade in which De Niro blazed on the scene and quickly became one of the most respected actors, the 1970’s. De Niro’s work was fairly limited in the 70’s but not at all to be forgotten as some of his most moving and unforgettable films would be made in the 70’s. Without any more build up, here are Robert De Niro’s best films of the 1970’s.
5. Bang The Drum Slowly
De Niro plays a baseball player with a fatal illness who forms a strong bond with one pitcher on the team. This was the first film in which people really took notice of De Niro and his acting ability. Based on a New York baseball team, it would be a fellow New Yorker that would cement him and begin his legacy.
4. Mean Streets
This would prove to be one of the most pivotal films in Robert De Niro’s career. It aligned him with a young visionary director named Martin Scorsese. The marriage of Scorsese and De Niro would prove to be one of the most prolific in Hollywood history. This pairing will appear many more times as these lists are written. Mean Streets is a raw, real look at life and crime in early 70’s New York City.
3. Taxi Driver
The second film made with Scorsese is the second film on the list. Playing Travis Bickle was a total master performance. Robert De Niro is absolutely terrifying and intense as the outcast cab driver who has crazy intentions and lives an odd life. Set in New York City it again portrays a scene in New York at the time it was filmed that people were not used to seeing and becoming afraid of.
2. The Godfather II
Playing one of the most iconic characters in film history, Vito Corleone, Robert De Niro would take home his first Academy Award. As a young Vito, his role would be spoken almost exclusively in Italian, which De Niro learned just for the role. This is the first and only time, two actors won Oscars for playing the same role. The Godfather II would go on to make De Niro a household name and star.
1. The Deer Hunter
The character of Michael and the film The Deer Hunter are quite possibly the most emotional in film history. Robert DeNiro is nothing shy of brilliant and fortunate to be surrounded by maybe the best performance by an ensemble cast ever. With memorable scenes like the Russian roulette scene and when Michael visits Steven in the hospital, he quite possibly became the greatest actor of his time. De Niro was never so emotional talking about a film as he was when he received his AFI life achievement award and spoke about his scene with John Savage when he visited him in the hospital, De Niro broke down in tears. That was enough to place this film at the top of all the movies he made in the 1970’s.
As the 1980’s drew to a close, and Martin Scorsese undertook the task of filming a Cape Fear remake, it seemed that perhaps great filmmaking might have passed him behind. It had been ten years since he had made a near masterpiece with Raging Bull and brought Robert De Niro his second Academy Award and brought together one of the greatest on-screen duos with De Niro and Joe Pesci. Scorsese had his moments in the 80’s though with The King Of Comedy and The Last Temptation Of Christ nothing was living up to what had come before with Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, and Raging Bull. Then hit 1990, and his opus was born with a return to the streets and life he was more familiar with in Goodfellas. Goodfellas was a cultural phenomenon and revolutionized a genre of films that had been around since Howard Hughes was producing films. The gangster movie was reborn and with a vengeance. It would appear that Scorsese could do whatever he wanted to make anything he felt the desire. Rumor has it this wasn’t the case.
A script had been floating around tasked to remake the 1962 thriller Cape Fear which was a legendary movie with outstanding performances from Robert Mitchum and all-time good guy Gregory Peck. Remakes are a very tricky territory and rarely if ever live up to the original. Only a perfectly casted and directed version could work. The studio initially wanted the already legendary Steven Spielberg to take the helm on this seemingly daunting task. Spielberg declined and recommended Scorsese and helped the studio, his own Amblin Entertainment, convince Marty to undertake the project by telling him that if he made this sure to be the commercial film, he would have the freedom to make any movie he wanted after that.
Scorsese agreed and pulled his good friend along for the ride, Robert De Niro. De Niro immediately decided to play the harrowing villain Max Cady in a real change of gears for De Niro. De Niro seamlessly transitioned from consummate gangster and an Italian tough guy to southern bread psychopath. The juiciest role by far in the film and no doubt the most fun to play.
Cast to play his opposite was notorious Hollywood bad boy, Nick Nolte. Nolte’s family would be round out with the lovely Jessica Lange playing his wife and the ever-versatile Juliette Lewis as his nubile young daughter. Lewis would end up stealing a good portion of the movie and come away with a much deserved Oscar nomination.
Wisely not doing a frame by frame remake of the original Cape Fear (a la Gus Van Sant’s awful Psycho remake) but he made a classic thriller a new classic Scorsese movie without losing the integrity of what made the original so great. Scorsese was at the top of his craft during this time. With Goodfellas and Cape Fear he trusted his camera angles and let his actors act. It was sharp and raw with a feeling that puts you in the moment and never let’s go.
Martin got the best out of every actor and gave legitimacy to this remake when several original actors agreed to appear in the movie, and it didn’t feel like a half-hearted way to garner approval with traditional film audiences.
What Scorsese was able to do with Cape Fear was lay out exactly how a remake should be done and that it can be. What Cape Fear wasn’t able to do is show that not every classic film SHOULD be remade. All the elements have to come together as one. The Actors have to be just right the director has to be bold enough and smart enough not to let the film flow and be it’s own. Scorsese was not afraid to make some scenes seem over the top or, dare I say cartoonish, it was the terror that was central element that mattered and without a doubt Marty and De Niro terrified to the core of what could be called the most celebrated remake in cinematic history and only a film appreciator like Mr. Scorsese could accomplish such a feat.